Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Fast (5:2) Diet

I'm not one for fad diets. I just don't believe in them, because they just seem doomed to fail. I'm a firm believer that most people who lose weight do so through lifestyle changes in terms of diet and exercise, and not from subsisting solely on shakes or cabbage soup or grapefruit. And even if they do lose weight that way, (and I'm sure some do), they gain it back because who could keep eating nothing but cabbage soup and grapefruit for the rest of their lives? Who would want to?

Even though I firmly believe this to be true, it also doesn't work for me. I'm not saying that if I could stick to a reasonable amount of calories each day and exercise regularly that I wouldn't lose weight; I know I would. The thing is that I don't have the discipline or the willpower. I'm ridiculously good at finding excuses not to exercise, with anything from a bit of rain or it being the wrong time of day (traffic-wise) to fatigue or a scratchy throat preventing me from exercising. I once didn't go to the gym because I didn't have my headphones with me. I'm the queen of excuses. And it's discouraging, because when I do get motivated and find the time to exercise regularly for a few weeks, something always happens to stop me just as I'm getting into it, like a sprained ankle or illness or simply a busy week, and I have a lot of trouble getting started again. This time of year it's simply too hot to exercise outside, and I don't have a gym membership. It's that simple.

I have similar problems when it comes to food. I know full well what I should and shouldn't eat, but you may have noticed that I like food a lot and have a bit of a sweet tooth (understatement of the year!). I try to eat well, and I actually think I do ok at it compared to what I see some other people eating, but I definitely have my weaknesses and it's virtually impossible to say no when something delicious is right in front of me.

And yet I know that I have it in me. I've had a Snickers bar in my fridge for months. I know it's there, and now and then I see it and I leave it there. For what, I don't know, but the same thing happens with the can of coke on my counter that's been there since Christmas and the chocolate chips in my fridge that only very occasionally do I dip into when I'm having an intense chocolate craving and there's nothing else around. So how is it possible that these things can just stay there without me touching them, but I think I have no willpower?

I don't have an answer for this, except that possibly my sweet cravings attack more when I'm at work than at home, and when I do get them at home I know I'll be happy enough with something smaller than an entire Snickers bar or a whole can of Coke. Hence the chocolate chips very slowly disappearing!

The solution for all of this may be the Fast Diet. A few weeks ago when I got back from my vacation at home, my friend Christine mentioned that she was on a diet. The thing is, Christine is not at all what anyone would call fat, so I was a bit surprised. When she explained it, I confess that my first thought was that it would be impossible or unhealthy, which is my reaction to most fad diets. However, after giving it some thought and looking at the web page for it, I decided to look into it further. Christine gave me a copy of the BBC program that started it all, called Eat, Fast and Live Longer, which I dutifully watched, and I downloaded the book and gave it a quick read. It turns out that this diet isn't just about weight loss, but there are other possible health benefits too, such as lowered cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and some people report more energy and even higher mental acuity! I'm not going into the science of it here; if you're interested just check out the website and/or the book.

The diet is based on Intermittent Fasting, which in this case means severely restricting your calorie intake for two days a week (which can be non-consecutive) and eating normally for the other five days. In this sense it's not even truly fasting, because on the "fast" days women are allowed 500 calories, and men 600. However, if you've ever tried restricting yourself to 500 calories in a day, you'll know that it's really not very much!

The beauty is that while those two days suck a bit, the other five days are ok! They are what make the two fast days bearable. Telling myself that no, I can't have that chocolate or cheese or go to chicken street on a fast day is much easier when I know that I can have it the next day. Obviously, I can't completely overindulge on the regular days, or that would completely defeat the purpose, but I actually haven't found that I've wanted to. I do find, however, that while previously I might have hesitated to make those cookies I'm craving, now I just do it, so maybe that's not so good!

The thing is, the lack of sweets on a fast day doesn't bother me much. I'm having a different sort of problem. Obviously, the best thing to do is to choose food on your fast day that is going to stick with you (low GI) which means lots of oats, beans and other legumes, and tons of veggies. I'm struggling with this. I usually start my day with a breakfast of some oats, plain yogurt, and strawberries, (which isn't far off a normal day's breakfast for me) then take a lunch to work which usually consists of a little bit of prawn, tuna, or chicken breast, along with some couscous, quinoa, beans, or lentils and a ton of veggies. I realized pretty quickly that these meals were going to have to not always taste the same, and I made a pretty successful chili-type mixture last week, but this week's meals have not been so great. My curry I made for Tuesday didn't go down too well, and today I only ate half of my chickpea, quinoa, and tomato salad. Not because I wasn't hungry, I just didn't want to eat it. The thing is, both of those meals should have been delicious.

This actually concerns me a little. Have I unwittingly made my body so accustomed to fat and sugar and salt that when my meals are lacking that, I can't even eat them? How do I change this?

So after today's meal didn't even get completely eaten, I've realized that I'm going about this all wrong. I'm trying to make myself eat things twice a week that I don't normally consume all that often, and my stomach and tastebuds are rebelling. I'm thinking I'm going to have to stick to things I'm used to eating (but obviously in much smaller quantities than normal) if I'm going to keep this up. I'm not saying I'll be eating chocolate cake on fast days or that the quinoa and couscous will completely disappear, but I'm going to have to find ways to adapt my usual meals to somthing fast diet-friendly.

I know full well there are recipe books for this diet out there, and I guess it's time I buy one. I've been resisting because I suspect that most of the recipes in them are meant to be freshly cooked, rather than heated up in a microwave at work. However, I'm also thinking that I should change my eating schedule to a lunch-dinner or breakfast-dinner, rather than the breakfast-lunch I was doing, and that will allow me to actually cook myself an evening meal of things I like! It might also help with the fact that on fast days I seem to have trouble sleeping (although it's probably too soon to say if it's that for sure).

I've been doing this for four weeks, and I'm not entirely sure it's doing anything, but I'm going to stick with it because what I typically do with any kind of exercise or diet routine is expect amazing results too soon and thus get discouraged and give up. And although on the fast days I get hungry, by the time it reaches 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening, there's no way I'm going to give in and eat then, because the entire day of food restriction will have been a waste, and I really don't want to have to do it AGAIN to make up for it! And maybe if I switch my eating schedule around, I'll find a way to make this work better for me. People seem to be getting results no matter what time of day they consume their calorie quota, so it's just a matter of figuring out how to make it work for me.

So, if you're still reading this, watch this space, and you might see recipes of things I make for my fast days, and actually want to eat. I'll also update every so often, so you'll know if it's actually having any effect!


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